What happens when a port stop is cancelled?

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Cruise lines may have to cancel stops at ports on certain itineraries from time to time due to foreseen (or unforeseen) circumstances. While this might be disappointing, it doesn’t have to throw a spanner in the works of a fantastic cruise holiday. Here, Emma from Cruising Isn’t Just for Old People reveals everything you need to know about port cancellations.

Port cancellations do happen on cruises, though thankfully they are relatively uncommon. Ports can be cancelled for several reasons and cruise lines have several options available to them when this does occur.

It’s possible for ports to be cancelled months in advance of sailing – or the cancellation might happen a day, or even just a few hours, prior to the scheduled stop. Although cruise lines reserve the right to change the itinerary at any moment, it is possible to purchase travel insurance with ‘port cancellation’ cover.

Why might a port be cancelled?

Weather

As with other modes of travel, cruise itineraries are very much at the mercy of the elements. If it’s considered too dangerous to dock in a port – or if the ship would have to cruise through a storm to reach it – then your stop may be cancelled. This is particularly prevalent in cruises which require a tender to get to land. Tenders are affected to a greater degree by bad weather and the cruise lines tend to take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach when considering whether it’s safe to go ahead and tender. The ship cannot risk letting passengers disembark without being certain that they will be able to retrieve the passengers later.

bad weather port cancelled

If a port is cancelled due to unexpected bad weather, you usually won’t be told until the day before or the day of the planned stop. Usually the Captain will make an onboard announcement, apologising for the change of plan and explaining why it would be too dangerous to attempt docking.

Political Unrest

There are some other extraordinary circumstances which mean that a port may be substituted ahead of time. Political unrest is one such example: cruise lines may decide to suspend ports within a country or area months or possibly even years in advance.

Due to the nature of these types of cancellations, the cruise line is usually able to tell passengers ahead of time and make suitable substitutions. For much of 2016, ports in Turkey were substituted with ports in the Greek isles due to ‘unpredictability’ in the country. This is being continued by Royal Caribbean, Carnival, P&O and Cunard – who will not be making stops in Turkey during 2017.

What happens when a port is cancelled?

There are usually only two options when your itinerary changes. It depends primarily on how far in advance the cruise line are aware of the change but also depends highly on the availability of other ports and tour operators.

Substitute port

A port substitution can either be made months in advance, as in the case of political unrest, or at the last minute in the case of bad weather. Substitute ports can be a great opportunity to visit a port that you may not have previously considered. Cruises can be a magical mystery tour and this is sometimes part of the fun!

day at sea port cancelled

Day at sea

If the cruise line is unable to secure a substitute port (usually due to bad weather in a greater area), a day at sea may be an option. This is a fantastic opportunity to make the most of the onboard amenities – particularly if you are on a larger ship. In a port heavy itinerary, it can be a brilliant chance to kick back and recharge your batteries. It may be  less than ideal if you are already on a sea day intensive cruise, but nevertheless the cruise line will go out of their way to ensure that there are extra onboard activities to compensate for the lack of the port.

Excursions

Cruise line excursions

If you have booked an excursion through the cruise line, and the port is cancelled prior to your cruise, you have nothing to worry about – a full refund will be automatically returned to the account which you used to pay for the excursion. If the port is cancelled while you are onboard, the amount paid will usually be refunded to your onboard account. This is one of the main benefits of booking an excursion through the cruise line.

Private excursions

If you have booked an excursion independently, you are not necessarily protected. If the port is cancelled prior to the cruise, you may be able to contact the tour provider and request a refund, but this is entirely at the discretion of the organising company and depends on their cancellation terms and conditions. If you are unaware of the cancelled port until you’re aboard the ship, it can be more difficult to contact your tour provider. You may be able to email them, but a last-minute refund is not guaranteed.

substitute port on cruise

Compensation and Travel insurance

Cruise lines reserve the right to change their itinerary at any time. In general, there is nothing that you, as a passenger, can do about such changes. If your itinerary changes beyond recognition – for example, if you have booked a Mediterranean cruise and the cruise line decided to reposition the ship to the Baltics, then you may be offered a change of cruise at no extra cost.

There are a few examples of cruise lines providing future cruise credit to passengers who have had their cruises severely disrupted with multiple port changes or last-minute cancellations – but this isn’t necessarily the norm.

Some types of travel insurance include ‘missed port cover’, which will provide you with a benefit should ports be cancelled at last minute. These are usually a fixed value, for example £100 per port, up to a predetermined limit. Be aware though that most policies contain a ‘Riot or civil unrest’ exclusion meaning that if your cruise/port is cancelled due to unrest in the country you will not receive any form of compensation.

We hope that your cruise itinerary isn’t disrupted – but if there is a change, you now have all the information you need to roll with it and continue enjoying your holiday. For more essential cruise tips, check out our Ultimate Guide to Onboard Freebies, Upgrades and Reductions.

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What happens when a port stop is cancelled?
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What happens when a port stop is cancelled?
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A cancelled port stop doesn't have to disrupt an otherwise fantastic cruise holiday. Here, Emma Le Teace of cruisingisntjustforoldpeople.co.uk provides a comprehensive guide on what to do should your itinerary change unexpectedly.
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About Author

Emma Le Teace

Emma is a veteran cruiser and the founder of cruisingisntjustforoldpeople.co.uk, where she is building a community of like-minded young cruise enthusiasts. So far, Emma has completed 11 sailings, and has another couple of cruises booked for this year.

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